Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Which One is Right for Cooling Your Home

March 28, 2016

Although heat is in the name, you can use a heat pump for air conditioning. It works by moving heat instead of generating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it can be used as a two way system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are similar in terms of SEER rating. Just compare these two high quality systems from Lennox.

XC25 air conditioner from Lennox

XC25 Air Conditioner
up to 26 SEER
ENERGY STAR® Qualified

XP25 Heat pump from Lennox

XP25 Heat Pump
up to 23.5 SEER
up to 10.2 HSPF
ENERGY STAR® Qualified



What is SEER and HSPF?


SEER is an efficiency rating for air conditioners, and the larger the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great however, and the efficiency differs depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is another scale that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. You can tell from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are about equal, if not even better depending on the model you choose. The greatest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also add warmth to your home while an AC cannot.

Updated minimum SEER guidelines for 2018 for air conditioning units and heat pumps
Updated minimum SEER guidelines for 2018 for air conditioning units and heat pumps


Does climate matter for heat pumps?


Heat pumps are much more effective in warmer climates with milder winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. We recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your area before getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, you could have extremely high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks too low, it's difficult for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never warm your home to the temperature you set. This means you could start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during colder months which drives your energy consumption way up.

How does a heat pump compare with a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is necessary for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As strange as it may seem, during cold weather, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the outdoors and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not sufficient heat available outside to heat the air inside to high enough temperatures needed to keep warm. So while a heat pump may be great during the cooler temperatures for someone in Tampa, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump may also need a furnace for the more extreme temperatures. If you don’t have a furnace that kicks in when the freezing temperatures hit, the heat pump can run for hours trying to keep your home warm enough.

How to achieve maximum efficiency with your heat pump


In some areas, heat pumps can function with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment since it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s actual temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for specific northern areas, but additional land must be available in order to install the proper piping for a geothermal system.

Just what you needed – one more thing to think about when it comes to your home comfort; but, remember, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up installing a system that shuts down when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in two systems when one would suffice.

If you can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a no-charge in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to help you choose the right option for your home.
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